Friday, March 26, 2010

University Gay Jesus Play: Just In Time For Easter

Seriously, now!  Would something like this be allowed if it were a play were performed during Ramadan about a gay Mohammed or about a gay Moses during Passover?   I don't think so ...

Texas Town Cross Over Play's 'Gay' Christ

Residents of Stephenville, Texas, say they're furious that a local university will allow the performance of a play in which a gay Jesus shares a kiss with Judas and marries two apostles in a same-sex ceremony.

A college student's production of a play in which Jesus is portrayed as the "King of Queers" has outraged residents in a Texas town that fancies itself the Cowboy Capital of the World.

Just in time for Easter, Tarleton State University is playing host to a student performance of Terrence McNally's 1998 play, "Corpus Christi," which depicts a gay Jesus performing a same-sex wedding for two of his apostles.

And though Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in the traditional biblical narrative, his character (called Joshua) in the play shows Judas the full extent of his love, kissing the son of perdition at Pontius Pilate High School's senior prom.

It's all too much for some residents of Stephenville, Texas, who say there's far too much passion in this Passion play. They are pressuring the university to call off the Saturday performance, which has already been moved ahead eight hours to an 8 a.m. start time to help head off protests.

"It infuriates me that somebody would be given a platform to be able to demean and degrade the Son of God," said David Harris, pastor of the town's Hillcrest Church of Christ. "I'm angry about it and every Christian should be."

Harris, who hosts a radio show, said phones were ringing off the hook in objection to the play's performance.

A school spokeswoman said it changed the performance time and boosted security to guarantee a "safe and secure environment" for the students, and it has now closed public access to the theater, which seats only 90 people. Only students and invited family members will be allowed to attend the show, which is an abbreviated version of McNally's play.

The production is a class project for student-director John Jordan Otte, who said in a written statement that he chose the play to "bring people together" and help gain acceptance for gay Christians, who he said often feel alienated from their churches.

"It is being said often that this play is a direct attack on Christians — their faith and their deity. It simply is not true," wrote Otte, 26, who said he is a devout Christian.

"I am not attacking anyone in choosing this play. I want people to see and understand another side to faith. I want us all to know that unconditional love means just that -- unconditional -- and I believe tolerance is a key message in this play. None of us, not one of us, should ever feel alone or separated from God or whomever we believe in."

The play presents a modern-day version of Jesus' life and death in 1960s Corpus Christi, Texas, with a few controversial updates. The apostles are all gay, Joseph is an alcoholic wife-beater, and Mary gives birth alongside a chorus of moaning men.

"At the end of the play [Jesus] is crucified with the moniker above his head as 'King of the Queers,'" said Harris, the pastor. "And they call this art."

But student Timothy Parker noted that the message of the play — tolerance — should be heeded on campus. "This is something being put on as a learning experience for the students," he told WFAA News.
Another student, Christopher Hepburn, called the controversy "ridiculous."

"This is academia, and one of the attributes of academia is cultural diversity," he told WFAA News. "Having this shown is something we should embrace as college students."
So much for tolerance and respect!

I agree with the student director, Otte, himself a devout Christian, that tolerance cannot be preached enough.  Perhaps the play portraying Jesus as gay is no more different from plays that portray Jesus as being of a different race or physically disabled.  The shock is intended to make the audience think "what if Jesus were gay?"  But, to produce the play during Holy Week and Easter can understandably be seen by his Christian brothers and sisters as inflammatory, antagonistic, and hostile.  I myself would not like to see the play.  I was turned off when I went to see "Jesus Christ Superstar."  That was too risqué for me, as I'm sure this play would be as well.

Oh, and I'm waiting for the annual parade of stories on History Channel and the news about supposed forgeries and conspiracies within Christendom that are churned out during Christians' most holy observance.  You know they're coming!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

China: Bibles Abound

This evening as I sat in a Bible study class (really great!  About The Book of Revelation ... hitting the differing viewpoints and interpretations!), I noticed that the Bible I recently bought -- an English Standard Version -- was published in China!!!!  I was so surprised!  I was checking the year of print (2002) and that's when I saw the "Printed in China."  It's a copyrighted edition by Crossways Bibles and published by Good News Publishers of Wheaton, IL.  I was a little saddened to see that my new spiffy Bible was printed in the USA ... but, why should this be any different from any other product bought and sold here?

But, it did remind me of this interesting headline I saw on The Christian Post the other day (emphasis added):

Demand for Bible Outstripping Supply in China

Sat, Feb. 20, 2010 Posted: 10:17 AM EDT

LONDON – The U.K.-based Bible Society has reported a growing demand for copies of the Bible in China where an estimated 500,000 people convert to Christianity every year.

Although some four million Bibles were printed and distributed across China last year, the rapid growth of the church year on year means that demand for Bibles is now outstripping supply, according to the Bible Society.

The official number of Christians in China stands at 28.6 million, but it is believed the true figure could be as high as 90 million if the estimated number of worshippers at unofficial house churches is included.

The Bibles are printed at Amity Printing Company, the only government-approved Bible printing press in China. It has printed around 70 million Bibles since it was established in 1987. Around 50 million of them have gone to Chinese believers.

Religious freedom group China Aid Association has kept a critical eye on the publisher. The group has claimed that the company has made availability and accessibility of the Bible difficult for the growing Christian population.

The distribution of the Bibles has been limited to government sanctioned Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) bookstores and distribution points, making it difficult for Christians who live in rural areas to access them. Cost has also been an issue, as most churchgoers in China live in poverty.

To deflect the cost, the Bible Society subsidizes the cost of printing Bibles. Keeping the price low is vital for Christians living in China’s rural heartland, where 70 percent of churchgoers are found and half the population live on less than $2 a day.

“As more and more people are joining the church they are asking for a Bible,” said Bible Society’s China Partnership coordinator Kua Wee Seng.

“Every year we have to raise funds for Bible subsidy. The reason is that in the rural areas where most Christians are found, they are living in relatively poor conditions. In order for them to have a copy of the Bible we have to provide paper so that a Bible is affordable for most of the Christians in China.

“This is a time of opportunity in China. Many of us feel that we mustn’t miss this opportunity or people will turn to something else, other than Christianity.”

Charles Boyd
Christian Today Reporter 
What great news in light of the years I received solicitations to help send Bibles to our Christian brothers and sisters in China!  Although I do find it a bit disconcerting that China has only one officially sanctioned Christian publisher.

I do wish, in some way, that my new Bible had been printed here ... supporting American workers.  I chose this new translation (new to me), because it is supposed to be a more literal translation, so I thought I would give it a try.  (I love the beauty and clarity of the NIV, which I have recently learned is about halfway between a literal and a thought-for-thought translation.)  

On the other hand -- how cool that I, here in the U.S., have a Bible printed in China!  God is, indeed, making inroads in a country that once banned, persecuted (still does) and slaughtered Christians.  The Bible is truly covered with the blood of many martyrs that have sacrificed to make it possible for me to own one ... and so easily and cheaply.

Sorry -- I can't resist: Mao must be rolling over in his grave!  Jesus does, indeed, have the final word.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Simon Peter: The Saint We All Love ... And Can Identify With

A few years ago, I was invited to participate in a speakers' series about struggles of the faith.  Each speaker shared his or her personal stories and our working out of the Faith with God's help.  Here is mine:

There is an old Yiddish proverb:  “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”  I believe most sitting here are, if not outright smiling and nodding their heads in agreement, are inwardly saying: ‘Ain’t that the truth!’ 

From a young age, all of us have carefully planned out our lives.  There might be a few who could say their lives have pretty much stayed on course,  But much to the chagrin, amazement and befuddlement of most of us here, very few could say that our lives have gone according to plan. 

Five years ago [now more like 16 years ago!], my life went careening off the little road trip I had planned.  Trying to get back on course has been an adventure, too.  I have met with some difficult and sorrowful times, but I’m happy to report that I have survived, grown a lot and become a better person.   There are several of you here who know of my spiritual struggles, and I have occasionally talked about them in Bible study.  So, when our pastor called me in to his office a few weeks ago, asking if I would be one of the presenters for Lent, I immediately thought to myself:
    “What?!?  He knows about my spiritual malaise.  What on earth could I possibly say?” 

Then, when Pastor said my topic would be about Simon Peter, I had to laugh.  That is the perfect topic for me!!!

I always take some solace in the persons of the Bible.  My solace comes from the fact that these spiritual “Heavy Weights” always started out as a bunch of narrow-minded, mean-spirited, very ungodly misfits.  Of all of the Misfits of God’s kingdom, I love Simon Peter the best.  I picture him to be a lot like the mobster character Robert DeNiro plays in the popular movie “Analyze This.”    Not that Simon Peter was a mobster, but I think about how perhaps many of the conversations between Peter and Jesus were a lot like the ones between DeNiro and Billy Crystal, his therapist -- 21st century, civilized man trying to help a CroMagnon deal with his “issues.”  Peter, with that rough and gruff exterior struggling so hard to change, with Jesus lovingly and patientlcy calling him to new life.

Simon Peter, I am sure, had his life planned out as well.   His occupation as a fisherman was likely inherited from his father.  He knew his life would be a simple one in his hometown.  But, one day, his life went careening off course.  He was called by Jesus to a new life -- a drastic, life-altering call to a new purpose and mission.  His life was to soon be filled with confusion, fear, and conflict on the one hand, and yet on the other hand would be love and forgiveness -- GOD!

I, too, received a fateful call, but it was not a calling from Jesus.  Mine was a call from a woman informing me of the affair she was having with my husband.  That call was also for me drastic and life-altering, to say the least.  It was a call that turned my world upside down, ushering in that same confusion, fear and conflict.  But I have also experienced God’s love and forgiveness.

Peter, being strong-willed (or a “control freak” as we would say nowadays), had a pretty rough go fitting into God’s plan.  He had his ideas of what the Messiah should be.  It’s a fascinating scene in Matthew when Peter is the only one of the Disciples to get the answer right:
    “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 
Did you know it is Peter’s words we frequently sing in our liturgy:
    “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

Shortly after Jesus blesses Peter for his spirit-inspired insight, He harshly rebukes Peter for wanting to control things rather than let things happen according to God’s plan.  When Jesus predicted His death, Peter blurted:
    “Never Lord!  This shall never happen to you!” 
Jesus wheeled about and replied:
    “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” 
Peter wanted to protect Jesus from the humiliation, torture and execution Jesus would surely face in Jerusalem.  Jesus was not doing God’s work according to Peter’s plan.

I, too, am guilty of wanting things to go according to my plans.
  I had been wracking my brains for such a long time, wondering why my faith was in such miserable shape.  I had weathered the storm.  I had made it to the beach, so to speak, but was like a  shipwreck victim, spiritually collapsed on life’s beach.  I was having trouble picking myself back up -- and still do.   I kept asking myself so many questions: 
    “What’s wrong with me?  Do I have no faith left?  Am I maybe mad at God that my marriage went down the tubes?  I mean, didn’t I keep my end of the bargain?”   

I then realized my problem -- I was so busy trying to get my life back under control, that I was wanting to control EVERYTHING -- even God.   I found that a great source of stress from separation and divorce was suddenly being responsible for everything.  If something needed to be done, I had to do it.  If I was going to make my way back from this lifewreck I’d had, I would have to be the one to pull myself along.  I had to do it.  I had to do everything.  In this control mode, I had slid myself up on the thrown, trying to scoot God off, saying:
    “Now, hold on God.  I can do this.  Watch!  I think things should go this way.  I’m going to be OK.   Just you see.  I am woman, hear me roar!” 

But, my wanting to control things only takes my eyes off of God, and I begin to sink.  Just like Peter, when he asked Jesus if he could step out on the water with Him.  When Peter stepped out, he was fine until he focused too hard on the water around him and took his eyes off of Jesus.  He started sinking.  But, Jesus stretched out His hand to him.  Peter took hold, and Jesus lifted him up.   How often do we get distracted by the stormy seas, losing our focus on Jesus?

Peter could be so hot-headed and impetuous.   Remember when the High Priest’s guards came to arrest Jesus?  What did Peter do?  He drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of the guards.   Without a doubt, Peter fiercely loved Jesus, and was reacting like, I believe, many of us would have.   His first instinct was to protect Jesus.  Again, Peter was stepping in the middle and interfering with God’s plan.  Although Peter had spent some three years with Jesus, living by his side all that time, Peter still had a long way to go until he was “Saint Peter.” 

I can also identify with that.  I recall a couple of years ago I went with a few kids from church to a youth retreat.  I was a small-group leader.  The atmosphere is amazing there -- so stirring to be surrounded by God’s people, talking about Jesus all week long, meeting new and fascinating people -- all within the context of God.   On the final day, as we are leaving to head home, we had all stopped at a corner gas station to fill up before heading out in convoy-fashion.  One of the teenage girls was filling her car’s tank, when a carload of teenage boys pulled up along side and began verbally harassing her.  Now, here I had been in this wonderful, loving Christian environment all week.  Did I react as Jesus would have wanted me to?  Nope!  I got so mad seeing these boys bothering one of “my kids.”  I strode over to Pastor's car to inform him of the situation, adding that I might have to go over and pound those boys if they didn’t stop soon.   I am still occasionally reminded of this episode by some of those kids whenever they return from college.  It’s a great source of amusement for some of them and one of embarassment for me.

Many times during Jesus’ ministry, it seemed like the Disciples just didn’t “get it.”  Peter, too, seemed frequently puzzled.  I picture Peter usually not understanding or agreeing with Jesus, but obediently going along for the ride, because that is what is expected of him.  It’s what he’s supposed to do, because Jesus said so.  It makes me  think of when it’s my turn to help serve communion.  When that time comes, as I walk up to the altar, I frequently feel so unworthy to serve communion, especially when it comes to serving the bread.  Serving the bread seems more difficult for me, although I am fully aware that neither element is more “special” than the other.  It’s just that with serving wine,  you can hide behind the chalis, not making any physical contact with people, But when you serve bread, for me it’s a different experience.   It’s much more tactile -- you break off a piece of bread, look at the person, say the words “This is the Body of Christ broken for you”, and place it in their hand, feeling that connection between the two of you. 

At the start of serving communion, I dwell on how unworthy I feel to be up there. 
But, I am always amazed at what happens as I serve communion.  I quit worrying about my unworthiness, realizing that we are all unworthy.  I quit focusing on myself, and instead make a connection with God’s people -- my brothers and sisters.  I notice after a few minutes that familiar tightness in my cheeks caused by my smiling.  I feel joy.  And, it’s no longer about me, it’s about Jesus.  The other tactile element to serving bread is when a young child comes forward.  We are to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads and give them a blessing.  The kids frequently look to the side with this expression of “I don’t know what this lady is doing.  What’s going on?  Oh, well, I’ve been         brought up here again, so I guess it’s OK.” 

I wonder how many times God sees me with that same expression on my face thinking those same thoughts. 
    “What’s going on?  Why am I here?  Well, but it’s OK. This is what I’m supposed to do.”  I figure I will understand it all someday.

Luckily for us and for the world, Peter did eventually start getting it right.  He is one of the great evangelists responsible for spreading the Gospel throughout the Middle East.  He was there at Pentecost when the Disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit -- their initiation into active duty, so to speak.  He is a crucial member of the team in the Book of Acts, as well as having written two of our letters in the New Testament.  And, let us not forget about him being the rock of Christ’s Church.

Although Peter failed miserably, Jesus never quit believing in and praying for him.
  Jesus knew that all the disciples would fall away when he was arrested.  In fact, he said to Peter;
    “Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back,  strengthen your brothers.” 

There have been times for all of us when we, too, were being “sifted as wheat.”  I know I am in that sifting process now; but, I am comforted by knowing that Jesus is praying for me.   And I pray to Him that my faith will not fail and that when I come out of this tailspin, I will have a renewed spirit and wisdom with which I can strengthen my brothers and sisters.

We all know how Peter three times denied Jesus.   And, yet, the book of John ends with, what is for me, a very emotional scene where Jesus reinstates Peter. 
Peter is out fishing, back to his former life.  It is early morning.   Jesus, unrecognized by the Disciples, is fixing them breakfast on the beach.  He asks the men how their fishing is going.  I’m sure Peter gave a pleasant reply.  Jesus suggests they try fishing from the other side of the boat.  I hate to think how that friendly tip was received by Peter. 

They followed Jesus’ advice and tried fishing from the other side of the boat.  They caught so many fish they couldn’t haul the net in.  Suddenly, John recognizes him:  “It is the Lord!”   Peter goes berserk, wraps his outer garment around him and jumps into the water.  (I’ve always wondered about that -- how come the other guys took the boats back to shore and Peter jumped in the water?  Hmm ... maybe Peter could swim there faster than the men could haul the full nets back in and return to shore.)

In Jesus’ grace, he reinstates Peter.  For each of the three times Peter denied knowing Jesus, Jesus asks him three times “Do you love me?”   And, all three times, Peter answers: “Lord, you know that I love you.” 

I know that I have denied Jesus many times
, so much so, that I am uncomfortable standing here talking to you tonight.   But I do take great comfort in Peter’s story.  Jesus entered Peter’s life and made him a new person, although Peter did not become a perfect person, nor stopped being Simon Peter.  But maybe Jesus wasn’t looking for model citizens -- maybe he was looking for real people.  He chose people who could be changed by His love and then sent them out to communicate that God’s love was available to anyone -- even those who often fail.  I don’t know what God sees in me, but I am comforted when I hear in church that God cannot love me more and He will not love me less.  I am comforted by Peter’s tenacity -- he failed many times in his following of Jesus, but he never failed to follow.  I pray that I may have that courage, as well.

The Hitchens Brothers: Radical Atheism Meets God's Grace

Like me, I'm sure you've noticed an increasingly radical, in-your-face, angry atheism that permeates our culture.  Christopher Hitchens, English author and journalist, has been at the forefront of "new atheism" -- a much harder-line version of moderate atheism or secularism that is refuses to tolerate religion, superstition, and any other forms of religion-based "fanaticism."  Hitchens, known for his 2007 book "God Is Not Great", is chronicled thusly by Wikipedia (yeah, I know, not a truly scholarly source of info, but his is hardly a research paper):
... has been identified as being a prominent exponent of the "new atheism" movement. He and fellow high profile contemporary atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett have often been referred to as "The Four Horsemen" and the "Unholy Trinity".[5] Hitchens is a secular humanist and anti-theist,[6] and describes himself as a believer in the philosophical values of the Age of Enlightenment. His main argument is that the concept of God or a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, and that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion, that inhibits it, as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilization.  [source]
The other day, I found an fascinating article written by his brother Peter Hitchen -- a former atheist who found his way back to Christianity after years of living in open rebellion and defiance to any notion of God.  (The two brothers have engaged in open debates about theism, which I believe would have been truly amazing to experience!)  The UK's Mail Online article is long, definitely worthy of a detailed reading, but here I will post some excerpts:

How I found God and peace with my atheist brother: PETER HITCHENS traces his journey back to Christianity

During his teenage years and early 20s, Peter Hitchens lost his faith and rebelled against everything he had been brought up to believe in. Here, in a moving and thought-provoking account from his controversial new book, he describes his spiritual journey back to God - and the end of his feud with his brother

I set fire to my Bible on the playing fields of my Cambridge boarding school one bright, windy spring afternoon in 1967. I was 15 years old. The book did not, as I had hoped, blaze fiercely and swiftly.

Only after much blowing and encouragement did I manage to get it to ignite at all, and I was left with a disagreeable, half-charred mess.

Most of my small invited audience drifted away long before I had finished, disappointed by the anticlimax and the pettiness of the thing. Thunder did not mutter.

It would be many years before I would feel a slight shiver of unease about my act of desecration. Did I then have any idea of the forces I was trifling with?
But this was my Year Zero. I was engaged in a full, perfect and complete rebellion against everything I had been brought up to believe.

As I had been raised to be an English gentleman, this was quite an involved process.
We were sure that we, and our civilisation, had grown out of the nursery myths of God, angels and Heaven. We had modern medicine, penicillin, jet engines, the Welfare State, the United Nations and ' science', which explained everything that needed to be explained.
My own, slow return to faith began when I was 30, in 1981. By this time, I was doing well in my chosen trade, journalism. I could afford pleasant holidays with my girlfriend, whom I should nowadays call my 'partner' since we were not then married, on the European continent.

I no longer avoided churches. I recognised in the great English cathedrals, and in many small parish churches, the old unsettling messages.

One was the inevitability of my own death, the other the undoubted fact that my despised forebears were neither crude nor ignorant, but men and women of great skill and engineering genius, a genius not contradicted or blocked by faith, but enhanced by it.

No doubt I should be ashamed to confess that fear played a part in my return to religion, specifically a painting: Rogier van der Weyden's 15th Century Last Judgement, which I saw in Burgundy while on holiday.

I had scoffed at its mention in the guidebook, but now I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open, at the naked figures fleeing towards the pit of Hell.

These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation. Because they were naked, they were not imprisoned in their own age by time-bound fashions.

On the contrary, their hair and the set of their faces were entirely in the style of my own time. They were me, and people I knew.

I had a sudden strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. My large catalogue of misdeeds replayed themselves rapidly in my head.

I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned. Van der Weyden was still earning his fee, nearly 500 years after his death.

At around the same time I rediscovered Christmas, which I had pretended to dislike for many years. I slipped into a carol service on a winter evening, diffident and anxious not to be seen.

I knew perfectly well that I was enjoying it, although I was unwilling to admit it. I also knew I was losing my faith in politics and my trust in ambition, and was urgently in need of something else on which to build the rest of my life.

I am not exactly clear now how this led in a few months to my strong desire - unexpected by me or by my friends, but encouraged by my then unbelieving future wife - to be married in church.

But I can certainly recall the way the words of the Church of England's marriage service, at St Bride's in London, awakened thoughts in me that I had long suppressed. I was entering into my inheritance, as a Christian Englishman, as a man, and as a human being. It was the first properly grown-up thing that I had ever done.

The swearing of great oaths concentrates the mind. So did the baptisms first of my daughter and then of my wife who, raised as a Marxist atheist, trod another rather different path to the same place.

I talked to few people about it, and was diffident about mentioning it in anything I wrote. I think it true to say that for many years I was more or less ashamed of confessing to any religious faith at all, except when I felt safe to do so.

It is a strange and welcome side effect of the growing attack on Christianity in British society that I have now overcome this.

Being Christian is one thing. Fighting for a cause is another, and much easier to acknowledge - for in recent times it has grown clear that the Christian religion is threatened with a dangerous defeat by secular forces which have never been so confident.

Why is there such a fury against religion now? Because religion is the one reliable force that stands in the way of the power of the strong over the weak. The one reliable force that forms the foundation of the concept of the rule of law.

The one reliable force that restrains the hand of the man of power. In an age of powerworship, the Christian religion has become the principal obstacle to the desire of earthly utopians for absolute power.

While I was making my gradual, hesitant way back to the altar-rail, my brother Christopher's passion against God grew more virulent and confident.

As he has become more certain about the non-existence of God, I have become more convinced we cannot know such a thing in the way we know anything else, and so must choose whether to believe or not. I think it better by far to believe. 
The article follows into Peter Hitchens' list of artguments and counterarguments that commonly occur between atheists and believers ... fascinating reading that I highly recommend.
14But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear, do not be frightened." 15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  [1 Peter 3: 14-16]

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth

As I leave the church and cross the parking lot, I feel the wind of the coming spring blow about me, weaving and slithering around my head, blowing my hair in odd angles and formations, making my hair look and feel like a doll's.  The wind encircles my body, too, swirling about my arms and legs, pulling my sleeves and pants legs about as if I were swimming in water. 

The sensation brings to mind a warm summer day years ago, standing on a boat dock on a lake.  It was one of those rare moments when I took the time to slow down, look about and observe the beauty of this world, and drink in with all of my senses Life.  I watched as the wind created swirls on the water's surface -- the only visible evidence of the wind's presence.  I recall ...
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:8)
The power of wind: think of what Man can do when he harnesses the power of the wind -- windmills to generate power, kites and planes to entertain and transport him, he can sail ships across lakes and oceans.  Think what we can do when we harness the Wind.

The wind blowing through the trees -- one of Life's most beautiful sounds.  The gentle rustling is calming, and yet in a storm, the furious creaking and buzzing of trees is alarming. 

Do we ignore God's voice when He "creaks and buzzes" in warning in our ear? 

Do we even notice when the Wind calmly "rustles" in our ear, whispering peace?

Think of those stormy days of incredible wind, when walking against it is difficult.  How many times have we willfully pushed against the Wind, wanting to go our own way and against God's? 

I smile to recall an old joke about the man from notoriously windy Oklahoma who got on a train and went to Texas.  After arriving at his destination in less breezy Texas, people around him marveled as they watched the Oklahoman occasionally fall down. 

"What's with him?", asked one man.  "Is he drunk?"

"No," replied his friend.  "He's from Oklahoma.  He's used to always leaning into the wind.  Here without the wind, he keeps losing his balance and falling down."

Lame, I know, but think about how the Wind supports us.  If we are used to having the Wind to lean against, we take solace in the Wind's support.  Without the Wind we, in contrast, repeatedly fall down.  We can't stand alone without the Wind's support.

Perhaps the Wind blows harder than at other times in our life, making our journey more difficult.  But, perhaps the Wind is directing our steps to keep us out of serious trouble.  Without the Wind, we lose our way, stumble and fall.

Wind is beautiful.  Some women complain that it "ruins their hair."  I've never worried about that.  I love the sensation of the wind blowing across my face and wreaking havoc with my "do."  I imagine the Wind being God's Hand brushing my cheek, playfully tousling my hair, tickling my ear with His Word, pushing, leading and accompanying me in different directions.

Spring Cometh

"Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time."  ~ Martin Luther

At this time of year, while driving about and noticing the gradual return of spring, I always recall that quote of Martin Luther's ... and I recall the time in my life when it brought me hope ... a time that now seems so far away ... dream-like.
I sat in the plane, frozen with fear.  My life was suddenly in the midst of a wild tempest, having received horrible news.  My life had become a soap opera -- tragic and, yet, cliché and corny.  

The plane ... sitting on the tarmac waiting to be cleared for take-off.  The other passengers ... waiting for their destinations.  Were they traveling for business?  Pleasure?  In the midst of some crisis?  I prayed.

Looking out the window, my eyes fell upon a frozen landscape -- January.  The earth was covered in a blanket of snow-dusted brown grass.  The trees were naked, appearing black.  Colorless. 
The land looked so ... January dead.  Brown.  Black.  White.  Frozen.  Lifeless.  

I felt colorless and lifeless.  Frozen by betrayal ... and frozen with fear.  I prayed.  My prayer was one of few words steeped in a deep ache.

As I continued to gaze out the window, feeling like as I were the frozen landscape -- barren, naked, frozen, lifeless -- I gradually how beautiful the winter appeared, bathed in sunlight.  The early morning sky was a soft golden color with tinges of blue in its upper reaches.  The sun made the dusting of snow sparkle ever so slightly on the ground and in the trees.

A small answer to my prayer: I remembered Luther's quote about the promise of the resurrection being evident in spring. 
"Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time."

This prompted me to remember what lay beneath the winter landscape: new life.  Though frozen and dormant, seeds -- new life -- were patiently waiting to spring.  I knew that after a period of time, this now frozen, barren land would gradually turn green, sprouting blossoms and blooms all about.  The brown, lifeless grass would slowly return to its green state, growing as its seeds and roots were warmed once again by the sun.

I knew I was like this frozen earth -- for now, cold and lifeless.  But, there still remained the promise of the resurrection.  Life was waiting to spring forth again.  In the meantime ... in this Winter ... the earth patiently waited for the sun's gradual warming.

I prayed that God would help me be patient and remain faithful, as the seeds of Life planted within me
patiently  waiting.

I pray for you ... that God would help you with whatever threat you are facing ... that God would protect you from forces that intend ill for you ... that you would receive the strength you need to face your situation ... that you would feel His presence in the midst of your storm ... that God will give you what you need ... and that you remember that the Resurrection is here and is coming.

Friday, March 5, 2010

SHOCKWAVE: Global Prayer for Persecuted Christians Starts Today!

From Ethan Cole and the Christian Post --

Christian Youths 'Cry Out' for Persecuted Believers

Christian youths on Friday kicked off a time-zone crossing prayer chain for persecuted believers that began in New Zealand and will go around to about 50 countries.

The ninth annual SHOCKWAVE global prayer for the persecuted is scheduled to take place March 5-7. The prayer event is organized by the Underground, a youth and student ministry of Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted believers worldwide.

“Shockwave is a movement of prayer that allows the passion of young people’s hearts to be heard by God as we cry out and join together across the world in solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters,” said Scott Ahern, director of innovative strategies for Open Doors USA.

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer different forms of persecution, including interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Jesus Christ. Millions more face discrimination and alienation.

Organizers point to Hebrews 13:3, “remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering,” as the inspiration for SHOCKWAVE.

During the 72-hour event, prayers will take place in SHOCKWAVE chat rooms, prayer meetings, churches, homes and other places in dozens of countries. In some locations, participants are holding all-night events or prayer breakfasts.

This year’s participating countries include the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Netherlands, India, Malaysia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Canada and Brazil.

“This is truly a witness of the unity of the body of Christ when youth from different cultures, ethnic backgrounds and regions of the world join to pray for one cause – to lift up and support through prayer God’s suffering children,” Ahern said.

Last year, thousands of young Christians joined in prayer for the persecuted.

The ten countries with the worst persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors’ 2010 World Watch List, are:

1. North Korea
2. Iran
3. Saudi Arabia
4. Somalia
5. Maldives
6. Afghanistan
7. Yemen
8. Mauritania
9. Laos
10. Uzbekistan

On the Web:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"Porn for Bibles: USTA's Atheist Agenda offers "smut for smut" swap

The University of Texas-San Antonio campus has an atheist group: Atheist Agenda.  This week, Monday through Wednesday, the group is hold its annual "smut for smut" trade-- Penthouse or Playboy for any religious text.  The members argue that religious books contain violence, spark religious wars, advocate for the mistreatment of women and are therefore no better than pornography.

Here's the story by Robert Torres of the UTSA's student paper "The Paisano" (emphasis added) --

Porn for Bibles

Atheist Agenda exchanges pornography for religious texts through March 3 in Sombrilla

Playboy, Penthouse and other adult magazines were exchanged for Bibles, Torahs, Korans, and other religious texts at the annual Smut for Smut event hosted by the UTSA Atheist Agenda on March 1.

A screaming, singing throng of UTSA students circled around the steps running from the JPL to the MS, anchored to a small booth offering the strange trade as opponents of the Atheist Agenda’s methods gathered in protest.

Atheist Agenda President Carlos Morales said that although pornography is a symbol of misogyny, the bible, too, advocates the mistreatment of women.

Defending the Agenda against accusations of amorality, Morales said, “If they’re defining morality by what it says in the bible, then it’s okay to stone your children; it’s okay to tell women they can’t talk outside the church.  I wouldn’t want to live by what they call ‘morality’ in the bible.”

By mid-afternoon, the Atheist Agenda had collected approximately 10 texts.

“People that come over here are worried that they’re going to get harassed.  We got all of those in the first 30 minutes, then after [the protest] started people were hesitant,” Morales said.

Others among the counter-protestors were less adamant, including Cecilia Tapia, a sophomore psychology major at UTSA.  Standing among the crowd, she held up a red copy of the New American Standard version of the bible, which she had no intention of trading in for porn.

“I’m here to make sure they know the word of God,” Tapia said.  She added that she believes she was there for both herself and the atheists in the crowd. 

“It’s part of my belief; Jesus teaches us that if we do not preach the word of God when someone has entered into our lives, then it’s our fault if he doesn’t enter into heaven because it’s our job as Christians to preach out to everybody else.”
Luckily the First Amendment also protects the rights of the students of faith to appear and offer an alternative to the atheists' mockery and hatred.  But, I guess the Atheists would never consider the notion that what they are doing is intolerant and hate-filled.

[H/T: The Christian Post]

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"I Am Not Ashamed" Campaign

Did you catch the ad on Fox last night?  Here are details from Jennifer Riley of The Christian Post:

Pro-Bible Ad Campaign Runs on Fox, MSNBC

A national media campaign to promote the authority of the Bible began running commercials on Fox News, and on Monday.

The “I Am Not Ashamed” campaign, organized by apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis, will run commercials from March 1 to April 25 featuring individuals from different backgrounds, nationalities, ages and cultures saying they are not ashamed of the Gospel.

Organizers hope to convey the message that despite physical differences, people around the world hold in common a respect and appreciation for the relevance of God’s word in today’s world.

A print ad campaign will also run in USA Today during that period. The print ad will quote specific Bible verses that address hot-button issues today. Issues that will be addressed include abortion, marriage and religion in the public square.

The various ads all point viewers to the campaign website where people can upload videos of themselves reading or quoting the Bible. One of the main goals of the campaign is to call on Christians to join the world’s first online video Bible.

The theme of the campaign, “I Am Not Ashamed,” is inspired by the verses found in Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jews, then for the Gentile.”
You can watch their national campaign on YouTube:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Remember How To Fly

Another one of those great e-mails I received a long time ago from a friend ...

One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I  saw  a kid from my class was walking home from school.  His name was Kyle.  It  looked like he was carrying all of his books.  I thought to myself,  "Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday?  He must  really be a nerd."   I had quite a weekend planned  (parties and a football game with my  friend tomorrow afternoon), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on.

As I was walking, I  saw a bunch of kids running toward him.  They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt.  His glasses went flying, and I saw  them land in the grass about ten feet from him.  He looked up and I saw  this terrible sadness in his eyes.  My heart went out to him.   So, I jogged over to him and as he crawled around looking for his glasses, and I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said,  "Those guys are jerks.  They really should  get lives."  He looked at me and said, "Hey thanks!"  There was a big  smile on his face.  It was one of those  smiles that  showed  real gratitude.

I  helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he  lived.  As it turned out, he lived near  me, so I asked him  why I had  never seen him before.  He said he had gone to private school  before now.  I would have never hung out with a private school kid before.  We talked all the way home, and I carried his books.  He turned out  to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play football on Saturday with me and my friends. He said yes.  We hung all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him.  And my friends thought the same of him.

Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again.  I stopped him and said, "Damn boy, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday!"  He just laughed and handed me half the books.
Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends.  When we were seniors, began to think about college.  Kyle decided on Georgetown, and I was going to Duke.  I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem.  He was going to be a doctor, and I was going for business on a football scholarship.  Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd.  He had to prepare a speech for graduation.  I was so glad it wasn't me having to get up there and speak.

Graduation day, I saw Kyle.  He looked great.  He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school.  He filled out and actually looked good in glasses.  He had more dates than me and all the girls loved him! Boy, sometimes I was jealous.

Today was one of those days.  I could see that he was nervous about his speech.  So, I smacked him on the back and said,  "Hey, big guy, you'll be great!"  He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled.  "Thanks," he said.

As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began.   "Graduation is a time to thank those who helped  you make it through those tough years.  Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach...but mostly your friends.

I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them.  I am going to tell you a story."  I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met.  He had planned to kill himself over the weekend.  He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so  his Mom wouldn't have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home.  He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile. "Thankfully, I was saved.  My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable."  I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment.  I saw his Mom and Dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile.
Not until that moment did I realize it's depth.  Never underestimate the power of your actions.  With one small gesture you can change a person's life.  For better or for worse.  God puts us all  in each other's lives to impact one another in some way.  Look for God in others.

"Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."

Make Room for the Rocks

Here's another one of those forwards that helps you stop and consider your life:

Thinking About the Rocks in Your Life

To all of the rocks in your life...............

A philosophy professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, rocks about 2" in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full? They agreed that it was. So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full.  They agreed it was. The students laughed. The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Or course, the sand filled up everything else.

"Now," said the professor, "I want you to recognize that this is your life." 

The rocks are the important things - your family, your partner, your health, your children - anything that is so important to you that if it were lost, you would be nearly destroyed.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car.

The sand is everything else. The small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party, and fix the disposal. Take care of the rocks first - the things that really matter. Set your priorities, the rest is just sand.

Faith Eases Depression

I'm sure this will study will make anti-theists unhappy to hear; but, this does jive with what I had learned a long time ago back in psychology class -- that people of faith have a lower incidence of depression.

This from The Washington Times (emphasis added):
Studies: Belief in God relieves depression

by Jennifer Harper

The "Big Man Upstairs" is getting accolades from mental health specialists who say they are finding that a belief in God plays a positive role in the treatment of anxiety and depression. 

University of Toronto psychologists reported last year that "believing in God can help block anxiety and minimize stress," their research showcasing "distinct brain differences" between believers and nonbelievers.

A new study released Wednesday by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago took the idea a step further.

In patients diagnosed with clinical depression, "belief in a concerned God can improve response to medical treatment," said the new research, which has been published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

The operative term here is "caring," the researchers said. "The study found that those with strong beliefs in a personal and concerned God were more likely to experience an improvement." 

The researchers compared the levels of melancholy or hopelessness in 136 adults diagnosed with major depression or bipolar depression with their sense of "religious well-being." They found participants who scored in the top third of a scale charting a sense of religious well-being were 75 percent more likely to get better with medical treatment for clinical depression. 

"In our study, the positive response to medication had little to do with the feeling of hope that typically accompanies spiritual belief," said study director Patricia Murphy, a chaplain at Rush and an assistant professor of religion, health and human values.

"It was tied specifically to the belief that a Supreme Being cared," she said.

"For people diagnosed with clinical depression, medication certainly plays an important role in reducing symptoms," Ms. Murphy added. "But when treating persons diagnosed with depression, clinicians need to be aware of the role of religion in their patients' lives. It is an important resource in planning their care."

Public opinion polls — from Gallup to the Pew Research Center — reveal that large majorities of Americans believe in God. It is a factor among the researchers as well.

Data released last year by sociologists from the University of California at Berkeley, in fact, revealed that 93 percent of the nation believes in God, a finding that has remained unchanged since 1988. 

The Canadian researchers who found that belief in God lowers anxiety and stress also based their conclusions on measurements — monitoring the brain activities of believers and nonbelievers charged with some challenging tasks.

"We found that religious people or even people who simply believe in the existence of God show significantly less brain activity in relation to their own errors," said Michael Inzlicht, assistant psychology professor at the University of Toronto, who led the research.

"They're much less anxious and feel less stressed when they have made an error," he said.

How interesting that the Rush University Medical Center study tied its positive results specifically to a caring God.  There appears to be better outcomes than for those who are simply "spiritual."